God Moves Into the Darkness to Find Us

“Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!” (Ps. 139:7-8 CSB).

     We cannot rise above the darkness because we feel so empty and ashamed of our lives. Worry, fear, shame, they all separate us from the light. These forces of darkness swallow us whole and leave us without hope. Despair reigns supreme, and we find ourselves buried in a sea of destruction. Our souls become crushed ice pellets that lack warmth or security.

     Hear the Good News, my friends. Our God moves into the chaos of the darkness and searches for us. The Divine goes to any lengths to find us, even going to the grave to pull us back to the light. So great is the love of our Lord that nothing keeps holy arms from gathering us up and restoring us to wholeness. We discover fearless love in the most desolate of circumstances.

     This passage from the Book of Psalms is a favorite of mine, as it reminds me of God’s unfailing love offered to all people. On this day of Advent, let us remember the great lengths the Holy One goes to for us. Never will we remain in darkness because we are sons and daughters of the Divine. Restoration is a promise freely given to us through grace. Let us claim the gift given and live in the light of God.

What I Mean Is…

     I am often guilty of saying a flippant response and moving to the next person standing to speak with me. We know this year is vastly different from years past, but that does not excuse us from genuinely expressing sentiments of good cheer. Everyone could use a little joy in their lives, especially now. I think of the many children in the Special Pediatric Unit on the University of New Mexico Hospital’s sixth floor. We know what it is like to search for reasons to celebrate while sitting in a hospital room during the holidays.

     To those who feel the darkness that surrounds them each day, I wish you wholeness. I am not talking about anything that depends on tangible things to satisfy the message of hope. I speak of an inward calm that rises above the pain that we feel or an inward commitment to higher ideas regarding life and each actual situation. I mean a feeling of satisfaction deep within our bones that steadies us and gives lasting peace in all circumstances. At the core of our inmost being, may God’s light shine.

     On this third Monday of Advent, may we not get so caught up in our joy, making that we forget those who struggle. Let us remember, God came into the world to lead us all. Let us not boast so loudly that we fail to see our brothers and sisters who lay beside the road. Hopefully, we can stop and be the hands and feet of Christ by caring for those who need our help.    

The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me

     I found myself fascinated with Isaiah’s proclamation that the spirit of the Lord came upon him. In the prophet language, God shared with him a special message. He announced, “The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners” (Is. 61:1 CEB). His calling to speak came directly from the Divine, and his message contained truths about healing and wholeness. Though written long before the New Testament, Isaiah’s message emphasized a gospel (good news) of hope.

     It looks like the prophet receives a herculean task to reach everyone that he could with the holy message of deliverance on the surface. I do not think that his call is any different than ours. The Divine calls us to action, to share the hope found in Jesus, the Christ. How do we reach the ones mentioned in the passage from Isaiah? Anytime we live our faith, we deliver the good news to whom we encounter.

     We are present-day Isaiahs, sharing the story of the Holy One in our little corner of the universe. Our calling is the same as the ancient man of God. We share the love of Christ with everyone, speak peace into lives that are in chaos, and liberation to all who need to be set free. Our voices continue Isaiah’s legacy, which reaches across time and into the heart of the modern world.

This Years’ Experience with the Christmas Rush

     In past years, this is crunch time for me. I make mad dashes to the mall to pick up last-minute gifts, prepare worship services for Christmas Eve, and visit shut-ins. I learned to navigate the craziness of the season by finding joy in all my busy-ness. There is a rush of adrenaline rushing to get the perfect gift for different people. My immediacy matched by everyone else as fellow shoppers unite with the same goal in mind. I find a sense of purpose and ritual in the madness of the holiday season.

     This year is vastly different. Like many others, I bought most of my presents online as in-person shopping is frowned upon due to the risk of acquiring the dreaded Covid-19 virus. Gone are the rituals that in some strange way brought meaning to this particular time of the year. Planning for worship is not the same as preparing to provide meaningful virtual services and parking lot services. My soul cries out that it wants the moment on Christmas Eve when the congregation raises candles to the skies as we sing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” There is something spectacular to see from a pastor’s view the families that stand together, filling the air with beautiful harmonies. For a moment, there is a sacred space of incredible peace. The holiness of the light in a dark room captures the splendor of the season.

     This year, we will not share in the same space the hope and mystery of the holiday. Should that prevent us from discovering other ways of providing sacred space? I think not. The good is that the darkness gives way to the light, even in the strangest of circumstances. Perhaps we can establish new ways of maintaining our traditions. We could light candles with our immediate family and take in the beauty of the light. Remember, Christ’s light shines in us everywhere we go. This year offers us a new challenge to express our faith to those closest to us. Maybe the ones that we hold most dear may need to hear the message from our mouths directly. Tell them, the light came into the world, and in so doing, offered us a way to shine in every circumstance. On this day, I wish you a joyful end to the second week of Advent.

Fear of Letting Go

     One of the great premises of Buddhist philosophy is the idea of giving up our attachment to things. By emptying ourselves of ways that we hold on to items, we can fill the new spaces with a higher consciousness. In our Christian world, we practice the principle in a similar yet different way. Christian emptying moves us to get read of an attachment to everything that keeps us from worshipping God. In other words, I must disassociate myself from people, places, and things that prevent me from living in wholeness.

     I am not talking about waking up one morning and cleaning the house. I suggest a fearless and moral inventory of our attachment to the things that stand in the way of freedom to pursue the Most-High God. For instance, my inability to forgive a person does damage to me. To grow in my faith, I must let go and let God do the holy work in my spirit.    

     In a moment of true confession, I admit that there are people with whom I struggle to practice the art of forgiveness. They did way too much damage in my life, and I get angry at the thought of their name. My faith encourages me to continue to work until I reach a time when willingness speaks louder than anger, and surrender to the Divine overcomes the negative repercussions of resentment. The reality of the unconditional release of bitterness marks the moment of real transformation.

     In this moment of Advent, let us reflect on our attachments to things that keep us separated from God. Let us pray for the willingness to surrender them and move forward on our journey. Let us grow in our faith until we mirror the image of Christ. In our moments of most profound hurt, when we feel the need to move from darkness to light, the real crying out of the Advent season rings true as we plead, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Seeing Color in a Black and White World

     We live in a dualistic society that assumes many things about an individual based on how one lives his/her life, who they vote for, and where they live. As a Christian, failing to look beyond the surface, hinders many souls from expressing themselves and is dangerous to their mental health. When a person profoundly feels different from their culture, feelings of despair, and even depression might trigger unhealthy and damaging responses. Many fall into darkness, feeling unworthy of God’s love.

     The good news of Advent is that Christ came down to look deeper into the soul. Holy actions remind us that the soul contains many colors, different hues that make up a human spirit. Faith challenges us to respond to others with the love that Jesus freely shared with those whom he encountered. I think of the woman caught in the act of adultery. The black and white thinking crowd gathered stones to put her to death, but the Savior looked beyond the surface to discover rich colors, longing for wholeness, hoping to find salvation in the kindness of the one who sat with her in the dirt. When healing hands touched hers, she discovered that she was more than what the world named her. She found the many colors of faith which reclaimed a heart for the Kingdom of God.

     On this day of Advent, let us find joy in knowing that creation discovers the incredible Holy Spirit planted deep within our hearts. A black and white world can never compete with what we have inside our being. The colors of joy, hope, and love reverberate from our souls’ depth into a world in desperate need of rediscovering potential us. Let us move forward from the darkness into a world filled with many spectrums of light.

We Embrace Joy

     When we move from darkness into the light, there is a supposition that everything reverts to a time when life proceeded in a stress-free environment. I often find myself shocked when my entry into the light is quite different from my entry into the darkness. “No, Lord, you answered my prayer all wrong. I want it done this way.”

     What I fail to accept is the solution provided with Divine wisdom comes in radically different ways. Eventually, if I stop fighting, I discover that the new course is much better, and the benefits far outweigh any quick fixes. Faith must interrupt the doubts, and hope gives way to a brighter day. We step into the solution and allow the Spirit to guide us.

     On this day in Advent, we thank God by remembering that our entrance into the light is sometimes fraught with struggle. We ask for strength in our hour of need so that we will not slip back into the darkness but gladly embrace the luminary essence of the Holy One of Israel. We sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” but have a tough time living as if God ransomed us. In the toughest of moments, we discover the One who keeps us balanced so that our feet may walk a steady line. We embrace our joy so that it will be made full.

One Word Makes a Big Difference

     As I got ready to go to church this morning, I heard a statement that bothered me. While not talking about the birth of Christ, someone said, “If you come down…” My first reaction was one of anger. “What do you mean ‘if you come down?’” Our season of Advent is one of preparation as we expect the coming of the Messiah. Perhaps the phrase should read, “When you come down…” The use of the word ‘if’ implies a sense of skepticism that does not ring well in my ears. Christ does come down and lives among us.

     Loaded with fire in my belly, I did what I should do in the first place, and I prayed for guidance. I realized that there is another way to interpret the “If you come down” statement. What if the author used “if” as a gesture of respect and humility? In this case, the tiny two-letter word implies our lack of worthiness, therefore making the gift of God’s presence even more remarkable and bolder. In other words, God saw the “if” and moved to action. The Holy One erased all questions. The Divine came down to us, in our humblest posture, to bring us the gift of grace.

     The second interpretation of the phrase in question reinforces a penitent heart and not one of doubt or confusion. I hear a prayer that beings in this fashion, “Oh Lord, my God, I know that I am not worthy to receive you, but if you choose to come to me, fill me with a renewed spirit so that I may fully worship you.” This posture represents the hope of Advent. God chose to come to us by giving us His Son, God with us!

What Do We Mean by Darkness?

     Sometimes I am guilty of using “churchy” words without explaining myself. There are phrases that we throw around without knowing the full extent of their meaning. What we do is set up boundaries for those who use familiar language when describing ministry. It isn’t easy to comprehend anything without first exploring the rich history that defines theologians’ ideas from generations. In our minds, we must first understand before we can fully appreciate the meaning behind a text or thought.

     “So,” I ask, “What does it mean to walk in darkness?” For me, when I speak of the symbol of darkness, I understand the word to mean hopelessness, chaos, and constant searching for a way out. It is like searching in a pitch-black tunnel without any light to help me find my way out. I think of the times that I felt lost, unable to make a healthy decision that guides me back to the path of hope and comfort. In this instance, darkness represents the idea of being forced to remain in a place that goes nowhere. We stay trapped and unavailable to save ourselves.

     On this Monday of Advent, let us reflect on what we mean when we say darkness. Take a fearless moral inventory, and remember the times in life when light did not appear. How did it feel? Go beyond the surface and recall the fear and isolation. When you complete your journey, stop, and give thanks to our God. Our darkness turned to light, and nothing else ever was the same.

A Fantasia on Christmas Carols

     One of my favorite seasonal musical selections is “Fantasia on Christmas Carolsby the great English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. The piece starts very somberly with a single cello and a baritone voice who musically narrates through the darkness. The choir hums until it takes over the narrative part. At one point, the entire timbre of the music changes and joyful singing replaces the first part of the selection’s heaviness. Suddenly, Christmas carols interrupt the dreariness, and light, short rhythmic patterns of familiar holiday songs fill the air. Christ is born, and weariness gives way to excitement.

     Our conversion experience is the foundation of the masterpiece. The gifted composer, Vaughn Williams, captured the transformation from darkness into light with musical decisions that befit a genius. We understand that the people who walked in darkness saw a great light. Our souls reflect the promise of new life and conversion sprung in the innermost parts of our being.

     On this second Sunday of Advent, I hope that we share in the joy of music-making as we realize that each carol, each hymn that we sing, may lead us to the father. Every song presents a new theology of hope and resurrection. Just like our lives are living examples of how night became day, mourning gave way to delight, and we find pleasure in a new way of being in the world. Let us pick up the mantle of hope and share it with a world that longs to be free.

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